Pope asks youths to rejuvenate Church; youths ask to be heard

Vatican Media

ROME — The Catholic Church needs the enthusiasm, daring and hope of young people to preach the Gospel energetically and respond to the questions men and women raise today, Pope Francis told about 300 young adults.

"We need to rediscover in the Lord the strength to get up after failure, to move forward, to strengthen hope for the future," the pope said March 19, opening a week-long meeting in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in October.

Most of the young people gathered with the pope at the Legionaries of Christ's Maria Mater Ecclesia College in Rome were chosen as delegates by their national bishops' conferences. Others represented Catholic movements or ministries, including religious life. But the Vatican also invited delegates from other Christian churches, other religions, including Islam, and young people who describe themselves as nonbelievers.

Pope Francis told the young people that they can help the Church fight "the logic of 'it's always been done this way,'" which he described as "a poison, a sweet poison that tranquilizes the heart and leaves you anesthetized so you can't walk."

The Church and its members must continue to go out, ask to what God is calling them and find new ways to respond, the pope said.

Everyone must "keep an eye on the roots" of the Church and preserve its essential teachings, he said. But they also must find creative ways to share teachings and reflect on how the Gospel responds to people's questions today.

Pope Francis heard directly from 10 of them, who represented every region of the world. Some lamented the amount of time many spend on social media, while others spoke of how technology helps connect young people and rally them in support of good causes. Some talked of a need for better catechesis and support in fighting the "culture of relativism," while others asked for an open and honest discussion of the Church's teaching on sexuality and on the role of women in the Church.

A young man from France, Maxime Rassion, told the pope he hasn't been baptized, but he has questions about the meaning of his life and his relationship to the world and to God, if God exists. He said he isn't sure if he wants to approach the Catholic Church for help because it's so big and he doesn't want to give up his freedom. But he asked the pope where he should start.

"You have already begun," the pope told him. "The danger is not allowing the question to come up."

Young people must have "the courage to tell themselves the naked truth" about their hopes and weaknesses, the pope said, and then they must find a wise person — someone patient, "who won't be frightened by anything" — with whom they can talk through their questions.

Blessing Okodion, a young Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked the pope what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking and whether the Church, which is "still too chauvinistic," really is capable of helping young women and men relate to each other as equals.

"Prostitution is a serious problem," the pope said. It stems from a widespread mentality that says, "women are to be exploited," he said, and he asked young people to "battle against this."

"One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal," Pope Francis said. "This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms. This is criminal."

Like many speakers, Angela Markas, a Chaldean Catholic and a delegate from Australia, spoke to Pope Francis and her peers about young people's questions regarding their identity.

"As youth, we are in need of guidance," she said. But from talking to friends, family and young people she tutors, "I feel young people are less drawn to seek this guidance from someone associated with the Church. There are many reasons, but a consistent one is that youth feel disconnected from the Church."

But they also want the Church to take them and their concerns seriously, Markas said. "There is a tendency in the Church to avoid matters that are not so easy to talk about. This includes same-sex marriage, our sexuality, and also the role of women in the Church."

Nick Lopez, a campus minister at the University of Dallas and a delegate chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also addressed the opening session with the pope and focused on the youth and young-adult years as a time of transition: "moving, choosing, experimenting, failing, succeeding, fearing and hoping that that next steps we make are the steps that God is calling us to make."

Many young people today, he said, have already decided that the Church isn't relevant to them. But they're still searching, and Church members should go out to meet them and help them see that Christ is the answer to many of their questions, he added. 

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